We said our final goodbye’s on Thursday.
But we ended it for good today.
Buying your first house is an experience you will always remember. It’s like any first in our lives — first time riding a bicycle, your first kiss, your first serious relationship, your first apartment.
As much as we remember our firsts, we also just as easily remember having to give them up for something else. When we leave our first real relationship, there’s something bittersweet always about the memory. When we move on from our first apartment, you will always remember the feelings of independence and freedom experienced living on your own for the very first time.
When I said hello to my first house, it was love at first sight. Irrational, irresponsible, and probably a little out of my reach, I bought it anyway because it represented stability in my life at a time where I had just moved twice in 2 years and traded in one job for another just as quickly.
I didn’t buy the house because I needed it, but simply because I wanted it. I was in my early 30’s and was tired of living in cramped apartments, overpaying for the privilege of having to enjoy the generic kitchens, bathrooms and sterile white walls found in every apartment. I had no family, was in an unstable relationship, and certainly didn’t need a house with its own long list of needs.
The subject of my house crush was an early 20th century four-square colonial in a mid-sized New England town. Up here, these are a dime a dozen, and this one was no different. But to me, this one was special because it was so obviously neglected and simply left to age without care or caring. It’s probably a similar kind of feeling that led me into wanting to help people, because I could see the need and had the ability to do some good. It was the same with this house.
Like many houses built circa 1910, it had many architectural house details that you won’t find in many affordable houses today. Crown moldings throughout the first floor, high ceilings, an outrageous main stair case and second-floor hall, a full, third-story walk-up attic, and spacious rooms on every floor. It also suffered from all deficiencies typical of this era (not deficiencies, mind you, when the house was built) – one and a half baths, awkwardly laid-out closets, the polar opposite of an “open” floor plan.
The best thing about this house, though, was that I could envision the potential of the physical structure to transform it into my first home. The work it needed was substantial, but not completely overwhelming (although, at times during the kitchen renovation, it certainly seemed so). And so, in 1991, I purchased my first dream and began work.
In the end, what I imagined would take a few years took six, and I probably spent far more on the renovations than I ever would’ve imagined. In the interim, I met and married my wife, and she moved in and promptly set about professionally decorating every room as it was completed. Most of the bedrooms and the main hall and staircase were completely replastered – we kept things historically consistent, so no drywall here – and I pulled more staples out of tacked down carpet padding from hardwood than I ever thought was possible. (Who covers up an entire hardwood first floor with wall-to-wall carpeting?!)
It was, at times, back-breaking work, and I sometimes wonder what carcinogens or other hazardous materials I may have accidentally breathed in from all the demolition and reconstruction work that occurred throughout the years. It was also challenging to do so much of it on the weekends and vacations from work, because it meant so little time for, well, actual vacations or just enjoying life.
As the years dragged on and each room was completed, the house felt more and more like the “never ending project,” or perhaps more apropos, the classic 1986 Tom Hanks movie, The Money Pit.
We had decided to sell our home as the projects were finishing up. While there’s always more thing one can do to a house of this age, there’s also a line in the sand you draw and say, “No more.” We had drawn our line as much for our own sanity as for anything else, and it was further motivated by our finding a new house to call home during one casual house hunting jaunt in a nearby town.
So after six years and more paint than seemed possible a house could actually use (I alone am responsible for Home Depot’s profits during this time), we put our house on the market at the end of May.
While I’d like to say we spent considerable effort in selling the house, we didn’t. Within four weeks, we had an interested buyer and we closed the sale today. I suspect two reasons we sold the house so easily and by ourselves is because we priced the house right for our neighborhood, and we had already moved out and gave it a thorough cleaning from top to bottom. It also helps to be very upfront about the house’s strengths and weaknesses, and be flexible in the negotiations.
It is very bittersweet to leave our house, and when we cleared out the last of our furniture on Thursday, we spent a few minutes to reflect on the time we spent in our first home. It was sad because of the many memories we shared with this house for so many years. But it was also hopeful because we knew we had done a lot of work on it while it was under our caretaking, and that a new family was about to move in and give it an entirely new life under their caretaking. We knew it was time.
They say you never forget your first and I never will. I also have no regrets leaving her, though, because the house we made our home will now serve a whole new generation of families for centuries to come. Like any good home can.